Murder charges against Venezuela opposition leader dropped
Somewhat similar to the protests in Ukraine, Venezuelans have been protesting about the government and its failure to represent its people. Recently, both Ukraine and Venezuela have had major military and civilian clashes during the protests.
In Venezuela, protests have largely consisted of students, but recently, more people from the opposition base have gotten involved. Leopoldo López, the unofficial head of Venezuela’s newly active opposition movement, was arrested by Venezuelan police who raided his home.
López made a dramatic appearance at a massive opposition protest. The speech by Leopoldo López was covered life by television news channel Globovisión.
Following the death of Hugo Chávez, President Nicolas Madura has been in office since April 2013. Maduro issued an arrest warrant for López, charging him with terrorism and murder after gunmen opened fire on a thousands-strong antigovernment demonstration in Caracas. López has also been utilizing social media like Twitter and youTube to rally Venezuelans fed up with shortages of basic goods. On Tuesday, he reemerged to lead another opposition march in Caracas, leading up to his arrest. Before his detainment, López tweeted: “The change we want is in every one of us. Let us not surrender. I will not!” In the midst of violence, social media platforms have allegedly been blocked by Maduro’s government and international media outlets have been attacked. The Maduro administration has undermined democratic institutions and controls all branches of the national government and the majority of state and local governments. Maduro’s people say protesters, led by López, initiated the violence while demonstrators say the authorities opened fire to scatter the crowd and killed three. Murder charges against López have later been dropped.
Human rights groups warned about the danger of turning the protests into a persecution of political opponents. And major social and economic problems in Venezuela have fueled the protests. The current Venezuelan administration controls the military and the state of the oil company, Venezuela’s main source of wealth.
Venezuela is of U.S. interest because of its reliable source of oil, however, the United States lacks the diplomatic tools, such as democracy assistance, to influence the outcomes in Venezuela. U.S. focus should be with regional and international partners to reduce the risk of violence and promote the restoration of full democracy. The states with the most influence in Venezuela, China and Cuba, are, unfortunately, the least likely to support change.
The arrest of López demonstrates a violent breakdown of political order which could potentially fracture regional consensus on democracy. I am curious to know what role truth commissions can play in this to investigate patterns of abuses and actions of Lopez and Maduro over the next several weeks. How will fueled protests affect U.S. relations with Venezuela? Venezuela has already expelled three U.S. diplomats this week, accusing them of conspiring to bring down the government. López has gained a lot of supporters for asking for the liberation for political prisoners and students towards an end to repression and violence. How much effect has public support for López had in his dropped charge and what will the Maduro administration do to guard/use its power?